The African American community overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in the 2008 elections. African Americans are also the ethnic group most opposed to same sex marriage, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Thus, when President Obama and Attorney General Holder announced last week that the Department of Justice would stop defending DOMA in federal court, there was understandable concern that this decision would alienate many of President Obama’s supporters in the African American community.
Yet according to the Washington Post, the African American community’s response has been diverse, thoughtful and nuanced. Some members of the African American community have disagreed strongly with the President’s decision, but have also declared that they will continue to support President Obama on other issues, such as fighting the repeal of health care. Others stated that, while they may not support the President’s refusal to defend DOMA, they also recognize that other issues, such as meeting basic economic needs, are more important to them. Most interestingly to me, some leaders in the African American community expect that President Obama’s shifting understanding of same-sex marriage will cause many African Americans to rethink their own positions on the issue. As J. Kameron Carter told the Post: “The fact that these initiatives are coming from the government – and not just that – from Obama and Holder, two African American family men, is going to generate conversation among African Americans…. This can open a very fruitful and interesting dialogue.”
If the Washington Post is right about this, then I think we have a lot to learn from the African American community’s measured and thoughtful response to Obama and Holder’s decision on DOMA. In a two-party system, it’s important for us to recognize that we simply won’t agree with every decision even our most favored politicians make. Therefore, we need to learn how to speak out against decisions that we oppose, while still supporting the politicians who make them, so long as they are still, on the whole, doing what we think is right. Moreover, if we’ve managed to elect politicians that we respect, then we should give them a chance to affect our opinions even on subjects that matter greatly to us. Not all politicians are smart and thoughtful, but when a smart and thoughtful politician changes his mind on an issue, I think we should at least hear him out, and give him the change to change our minds as well.